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Is The Sky Falling?

Every other year, or now yearly, it seems, someone rings the death bell of the TDM PBX. Each time the bell sounds a little louder, and after Stephen Leaden posted an article, I asked my buddy Eric, “Is the Sky Falling?” I sent him my old faithful list of TDM PBX resources because I know some of the gear cited is still available. Then, the reply I got from Eric meant, he wanted me to get to work- and put together a post.

But what got my attention from the article Are You Still On TDM? You Could Be On Death Row by Stephen Leaden, (he’s an IT guy) is the list of the products being discontinued by manufacturers. So I looked at the list again and concluded, the gear is long past its prime. Then, I noted that some of the products aren’t really exclusive to Large-enterprise gear. While L-enterprise may use this gear at smaller locations, a lot of it resides in the SMB/E space that I play in.

Several of the products listed (Axxess, Dimension, Fujitsu, Intecom, Rolm, Strata) shouldn’t impact any significant market share of the installed base. I realize some of the gear is still out there, but come on, Dimension, Intecom, ROLM and Strata PBXs? Good grief, I was taking this gear out of service through 2000. Given these aged examples, the list should read “…Are On Death Row.”

[Editor's note: Aastra Intecom took issue with Matt's characterization here, and sent us the following clarification:

Intecom, unlike the rest of the systems mentioned in the article is alive, well, profitable and continuing to effectively serve our target markets. Since 2005 Intecom has been a part of Aastra, a large and growing company focused entirely on Enterprise IP communications. In fact Aastra just assumed the number 1 position in the PBX market in Europe with over 16% of the market. As a result we have more resources than ever to bring to bear on the unique communications issues faced by large enterprises.

Intecom has been in the PBX business specializing in large enterprises for almost 30 years, in that time we have end-of-manufactured only two systems; the original 1980 vintage IBX and the mid-market Telari. Perhaps these are the systems Matt was de-installing in 2000. Our customers tend to be very loyal and many of our IBX customers upgraded to the Intecom E beginning in 1993 without replacing phones or training. The E was replaced in 2001 by Pointspan which used the vast majority of the E hardware for its TDM capabilities, all of which are still in active manufacture.

Today Intecom customers enjoy the choice of the hybrid IP telephony environment of Pointspan or the fully SIP-to-the-core open unified communications environment of Clearspan. In either case the choice to replace the users desktop device depends solely on the timing that suites the customer best.]

So, I agree with Stephen in part, but the outlook for TDM isn’t exactly what I’d coin as a near death experience for all users of TDM.

As it is, these systems and numerous others just like the ones named are still in and hard at work in other companies too, and it’s not just because these user companies are “laggards” in adopting new technology- it’s because they want replacement technology that’s as good or better. Other underlying reasons may be they’re not ready to deal with the frustration and disruption associated with changing a telephone system; cash flow; they’re too busy planning and improving their existing infrastructures; or maybe some of them are happy with how things are.

Then, how often does Corporate knowingly cut off funds because they know they are going to cease operations or shut down an office elsewhere? L-enterprises haven’t, I hope, lost the art of moving assets around. Oftentimes, the needs of the organization, not the IT department, dictate that a system be de-installed from one location and re-used at another.

All the trimmings Stephen associated with VoIP aren’t always in the business plan, especially in certain industries where getting “instant communications” via the Internet isn’t likely to be real useful--in industrial situations when you need explosion proof telephones available 24x7 for emergencies, track-side call boxes, ring down phones, or even the elevator phones. While they each may carry benefits, it doesn’t require ramming UC down the throats of users because we can--but its starting to sound more and more like IT departments are going to say, “because we will.”

How much communications of any kind can a human being endure? My greatest concern with UC is the demise of the separation we all experience in our lives between professional (work) and private (personal) time. Clearly, with cell phones, IM, email, chat and now UC; when can we find the time to decompress? Our societal structure for compensation and work has pretty much remained the same. Our lives are so disrupted by technology, including “instant communications,” that we have a huge imbalance.

We are far from that utopian view that the characters in Star Trek portray. Communicator badges will be great so long as they can be turned off, taken off or put in Do Not Disturb (DND) mode. This is the great disparity today- we aren’t turning things off, we are turning them on and drowning in them.

So as managers of the most valued assets--people--we are missing the mark, and people are being suffocated with immediate communications, reachability, presence or whatever other term we can dream up for connecting them.